Retailers have been competing fiercely to lure holiday shoppers into their stores with doorbusters on Black Friday for decades, continuously refining offers and marketing in an evolution that has led many to start deals on Thursday to beat the rush. The media is generally quick to report on the backlash to employees working on Thanksgiving, but retailers are responding to changes in shopping behavior that are forcing them to push promotional periods beyond traditional barriers. They really have no other choice if they want to compete.
A sign of the omnichannel times is that consumers are faced with so many choices and exposed to so many messages, they have learned to ignore all but the most relevant ones. That’s good news for smart retailers because it means that they don’t have to wait until specific days to roll out their best deals — if the promotion is right, it will get results. In fact, many experts now believe that the holiday shopping season officially starts as early as Veterans Day and spending has become more spread out. Last year, the Saturday before Christmas was the busiest shopping day of the year — not Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
Understanding how today’s consumers shop is key to developing a solid digital strategy to complement in-store promotions, or even to stand on its own for e-commerce pure plays. When implemented properly, extending promotional offers has bigger implications than just the winter holidays (think about all the lesser holidays sprinkled throughout the year) and can include any relevant shopping periods whether they are holidays or special events.
The Limited Time Offer is Still Real
E-commerce is not a space where engaging in price wars is generally beneficial, but special promotions are still effective tools in driving traffic. Amazon saw the biggest day in its history though its recent Prime Day event, which was not aligned with any established holiday. The success of Prime Day was not born from a small handful of severely slashed loss leading merchandise to lure visitors; there were thousands of items that were discounted so that all shoppers could find deals that interested them.
However, Amazon followed one of the most tried and true rules of retail: urgency. The sale only lasted for one day, and many of the best “lightning deals” had availability that could be as little as a few minutes. Whether you adhere to everyday low pricing, high-low pricing, or some hybrid, limiting promotional offerings to specified timeframes creates urgency and builds excitement, leading to increased sales. What is becoming less important is what specific day you choose to hold the event.
Mastering the 3 Ps: Product, Price and People
Omnichannel consumers are generally not drawn to make impulse purchases based on price alone — they have to already want the product before a good price will entice them to convert. It is incumbent upon retailers to know which products are in demand so they can be stocked and promoted. To do this, play close attention to trends in your vertical and the celebrities that generate product demand, especially on social media channels when Millenials are your target market. Be ready to jump on a product the moment it becomes hot.
Because price competition online is so fierce, be sure to use a pricing tool so you can ensure that your offer is attractive. Once the promotion is set, there are multiple ways to communicate it, but the fastest, cheapest and easiest way is through direct and targeted email advised by your existing customer database. Stratify customers into personas so that each person is alerted to the deals that are most relevant to them. That’s how you cut through the noise — every offer should feel like it was customized for that specific customer, and you likely already have the data you need to make that happen.
Optimize Each Visit with the Right Upsells
Everybody knows that merchandise promotions exist to get people into stores with the hope that they will buy more once they are there. Any reason to attract a visit is an opportunity, and the same opportunity exists online; you just have to be smarter about leveraging it since you have less control of the shopping environment. This begins with knowing what to upsell, and e-commerce enjoys a significant advantage over brick-and-mortar in this regard. That’s because every aspect of browsing behavior yields useful data points, and you can know a lot about any customer before they checkout even if they have never visited your site before.
With that intelligence, you can make informed upsell offers. A key in helping them convert is to make the journey as frictionless as possible. Allow customers to add upsell offers to their carts with just one click; you can even make offers after the checkout has been completed and process transactions using the customer information and payment information that has already been collected. Never stop helping customers find merchandise that enhances their lives, but you must do so in an authentic “non-salesy” way. Fewer steps to complete a sale always boost conversion rates.
Omnichannel has introduced both challenges for retail marketing because it has shifted power disproportionately to consumers, giving them instant access to multiple offers at any time. But at the same time, it has greatly increased sales opportunities with consumers actively shopping and converting 24/7, creating much broader timeframes for promotional activities to occur. Holidays still represent ideal times to implement promotional strategies with more options surrounding specific timing as active shopping seasons grow longer.
Zeke Hamdani is Director of Web Services for Celerant Technology